Death of Former Dutch Prime Minister Dries Van Agt brings up debate on euthanasia practices and trends

By CDI Staff |
elderly couple hands
Gert Stockmans / Unsplash

On February 5, 2024, Catholic former Dutch prime minister Dries van Agt passed away “hand in hand” with his wife Eugenie van Agt-Krekelberg when they both undertook “duo euthanasia.” Van Agt and his wife both had “delicate health conditions.” They had been married for 70 years and were 93 years old. According to the Guardian, their deaths are part of a growing duo euthanasia trend in the Netherlands.

While duo euthanasia is still rare, Agt and his wife are not the first to do it. According to the Christian Network Europe, in 2016, former MP Frans Jozef van der Heijden and his wife, Gonnie, ended their lives together. Both were terminally ill.

After suffering a brain hemorrhage in 2019, Van Agt’s health deteriorated. It was then that the former minister discussed the possibility of euthanasia with the Director of The Rights Forum Gerard Jonkman. “He then said that euthanasia was an option if life and suffering became unbearable,’ Jonkman told NOS Nieuws.

According to The Week, demand for duo euthanasia in the Netherlands is rising. In 2020, 26 couples decided to end their lives together. Those numbers increased to 36 couples in 2021 and 58 in 2022.

Elke Swart, spokesperson for the Expertisecentrum Euthanasie told the Guardian that instances of duo euthanasia are still rare. The Expertisecentrum Euthanasie grants the euthanasia wish to 1,000 people per year. Swart added, “It is pure chance that two people are suffering unbearably with no prospect of relief at the same time … and that they both wish for euthanasia.”

This can romanticize euthanasia, which is a concern for some in the media. Fransien van ter Beek, who chairs the NVVE pro-euthanasia foundation mentioned to The Week that duo euthanasia could appeal to the elderly population given that couples, “no longer have to experience the death of the other, so [they] save [themselves] the grief.”  But van ter Beek also said that not many take this path because it can be difficult to reach this resolution together.

In an interview with The Times in 2023, Professor Kevin Yuill, chief executive of Humanists Against Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia mentioned that duo euthanasia is, “increasingly seen as a solution for social rather than medical problems,” because it can be “very unlikely” that couples’ medical pathologies “matched so perfectly.”

Assisted suicide remains illegal in most European countries. In countries like Italy, self-determined death is still a sensitive topic. Public opinion is mixed between those who support a choice and those pointing out that euthanasia only became legal in the Netherlands in 2002.

But forms of euthanasia are legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. In Switzerland, assisted suicide has been legal since 1942. In fact, foreign citizens travel there for so-called “suicide tourism.”

On February 11, 2022, two sisters from Arizona went to Switzerland and died together by assisted suicide without the knowledge of their family members. According to The Independent, their choice was due to being “tired of life.” Swiss authorities determined their deaths fit within the country’s legal framework.